High Sierra Trail: Day 5 – Kern Hot Spring to Junction Meadow
Distance: 7.5 miles point to point
Camping Elevation: 8,000 feet
Bear Box: Yes
Water Nearby: Yes
When to go: July through end of September
I made it through the hardship of the last 4 days. I hiked up and down the Great Western Divide, camped in the middle of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range (I always wondered what it looked like), had a very hard descend down to Kern River, had frozen socks, and blisters by this point.
But the 5th day was the best day thus far. The elevation gain wasn’t bad, the miles covered also not bad and we soaked our sore muscles in the Kern Hot Spring. It was AMAZING.
We hiked the .25 of a mile to the hot springs and got there around 8am to discover that we had it all to ourselves. There are three springs. One is just a little pool and is the hottest, one is the official hot spring and one is just a warm pool of the runoff from the hot spring as it mixes with the cold water from the river. The hot springs sit right next to the Kern River, so if you wanted to, you can jump into the river than the hot spring or vice versa.
There is a concrete bathtub built to collect the hot spring water. You can even drain it and then refill it to have fresher water. There is a wooden fence around the concrete tub to give you some privacy and there is a metal pot that you can use to pour the warm water on your head.
After soaking in the spring for about 20 minutes, I took the pot and walked away from the water, dug a cathole and washed my hair with the warm water. This was my first (and only) hair wash since the morning we left Lone Pine 5 days ago. I felt like a new person afterward. My sore feet and blisters were soaked, my hair was clean, I was well rested and ready to take on the rest of the HST. I wanted to just sit there all day, but we needed to make miles so we left around 9am and proceeded on the rest of the hike. Before getting in, wipe off any sunscreen and bug spray to protect the ecosystem and to preserve the experience for other hikers.
The Kern Hot Spring Campground is further up on the trail away from the hot spring and has a communal bear box, allows for fires and has water nearby. There is also a pit toilet here.
The water crossings in this section were the most difficult so far (excluding the one by the Hamilton Gorge on Day 3). We were hiking during the last week of September and the rivers and streams in this sections were flowing rapidly. There were a few crossings where we had to take off our shoes or go off trail to find a safer place to cross. During early summer, these crossings are probably more dangerous, so cross with caution. There were crossings throughout the hike to Junction Meadow.
Although this is the easiest section of the whole hike, I suggest getting an early start to the day. The trail is very exposed and it can get hot in the Kern River Valley.
On the map, Junction Meadow is further up on the trail from the campsite. Right before, you’ll do a big water crossing and right on the other side of it, you’ll see a flat area and a campground. Congratulations, you’ve made it to the Junction Meadow campground and mile 45 of the HST!
When we arrived, we were the first ones and were confused if we were in the right spot. But it was close, we saw bear boxes and fire rings so we set up camp. An hour later the other groups we had been leap-frogging with started to stroll in.
We had an early dinner and I wadded in the river that runs by camp and had an early night.